Have you heard of the Ketogenic (or Keto) Diet? Established in the 1920s when doctors used it as a therapy to treat epilepsy patients, the Keto Diet has become one of the most popular weight loss diets in recent years. So, what exactly is the Keto Diet and is it safe for everyone?
What is the Keto Diet?
The Keto Diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet which severely restricts carbohydrates, moderately restricts protein and greatly increases fat intake. This type of diet switches the body’s main energy source through a process known as ketosis. During ketosis, the liver produces ketones from fat and these ketones serve as fuel for the body. Instead of using glucose (from carbs) for energy, the body switches to burning fat. People on the Keto Diet often experience rapid weight loss at first, and as the body adjusts, weight loss will continue at a steady pace.
Is the Keto Diet safe for everyone?
Everyone’s dietary needs are different. There is no “one diet fits all”, and any diet, if not done properly, can potentially be harmful to one’s health. Here are some important points to note if you’re considering the Keto Diet:
- A strict Keto Diet is not recommended for women who are breastfeeding. Though rare, there have been cases where new mothers have nearly died on a low-carb diet while breastfeeding due to a condition called ketoacidosis. While breastfeeding, you lose sugar through the milk, and not eating enough carbohydrates in this situation can possibly lead to ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening. If you’re breastfeeding, a moderate carb intake of at least 50 to 75g of carbohydrates should be consumed daily. A low-carb diet may also decrease milk supply. Are you pregnant? Talk to your ob/gyn before starting the Keto Diet.
- Although eliminating sugars and processed carbohydrates can improve your gut health, a low-carb diet can affect your gut microbiome negatively (not to mention cause constipation) if you don’t eat enough fiber. The more we learn about gut health and the microbiome, the more we realise that gut health is key to overall health. It has a significant impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. On the Keto Diet, remember to load up on leafy greens, nuts, asparagus, avocados and other fiber-rich foods.
- When you’re on the Keto Diet, be aware of the nutrient content of the foods you consume. Foods such as butter, coconut or bacon, which are heavily consumed on a ketogenic diet, are very high in fat. However, compared to the number of calories they provide, these foods are very low in nutrients. Instead, choose nutrient-dense foods such as avocados, cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), fatty fish, grass-fed beef, omega-3 eggs, cheese, Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds.
- Can children go on the Keto Diet? If your child is overweight, suffers from seizures and severe epilepsy syndrome, s/he may benefit from the Keto Diet (which was originally used to treat children with epilepsy). But, how about for a healthy child? Dr. Yik always reminds parents that nutrient needs for children are higher than for adults. Restrictive diets of any kind aren’t wise unless medically indicated. Children need a wide variety of different nutrients from nutrient-dense foods to grow, develop and stay healthy. Carbohydrates provide not only the energy kids need but also key nutrients for growth and development. These include foods like vegetables, whole grains and fruits. Fiber, a type of carbohydrate, not only helps children feel satiated and keep blood sugar levels steady but also prevent constipation as well as changes in the gut microbiome.Lastly, as parents, be aware of the message you send to your children when you go on fad diets. Are you weight-obsessed? What message are you sending your child about body image? Are you modelling unhealthy food behaviours? Remember, as a parent, your eating habits will affect your child’s relationship to food later in life. If you are not sure whether or not your child will benefit from a Keto Diet or if you want nutritional guidance for your child, talk to your child’s paediatrician, nutrition or healthcare practitioner. For nutritional therapy and dietary advice for children, Dr. Yik offers the “Boost Your Child’s Health” program.